In about-face, Abbas’s doctor says Palestinian leader staying in hospital

No explanation offered as medical center treating 83-year-old Palestinian leader during pneumonia bout reverses course

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas walking in hospital on May 21, 2018. (Screen capture/Twitter)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas walking in hospital on May 21, 2018. (Screen capture/Twitter)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not leaving the hospital, his doctor said Sunday, abruptly reversing a previous announcement that the leader would be discharged.

Abbas, 83, was hospitalized last week with a fever, just days after undergoing ear surgery. Palestinian officials said he had pneumonia and was on a respirator, receiving antibiotics intravenously.

Yasser Abu Safiyeh initially said Sunday that Abbas would be discharged, and the media was alerted to the hospital. Then the plan was nixed, with no explanation offered.

Abu Safiyeh had indicated Abbas was healthy and had been kept a few extra days “to avoid any setback that could be caused by any infection.”

On Saturday, the head of the Istishari Arab Hospital where Abbas is being treated said the Palestinian leader was in good health.

“His state of health is excellent but the doctors have not yet decided the date of his release,” said Saed Sarahna.

Abbas, who is a heavy smoker and overweight, has a long history of health issues, ranging from heart trouble to a bout with prostate cancer a decade ago.

He has no deputy and his latest health scare and sudden hospitalization revived anxiety over a potentially chaotic or even bloody succession battle.

Recently, a cardiologist moved into the presidential compound in Ramallah to monitor the longtime leader after a mysterious hospital visit in the United States, following Abbas’s address to the United Nations Security Council, in which he appeared weak.

Speaking Tuesday to reporters at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki warned against exaggerating Abbas’s health scare.

“It’s obvious that all of us as humans might have certain health setbacks … President Abbas is not really immune from that,” he said. “Of course we were concerned about his health as anyone should be but you know we should not really take it out of proportion when it comes to his health.”

Pictures of Abbas walking around the wards and reading a newspaper were published last week, in an apparent attempt to calm rumors that his condition was worse than officially reported.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shown recovering in hospital and reading a newspaper, on the back page of which is a cartoon portraying an Israeli soldier poisoning a Palestinian baby, May 22, 2018. (Wafa news agency)

Controversy erupted when viewers noticed the newspaper Abbas was pictured reading prominently carried a large cartoon on its back page, facing the camera, showing an Israeli soldier taking a baby’s milk away from her and ramming poison down her throat instead.

The cartoon referred to a claim by Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry that 8-month-old Layla Ghandour died from inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops during violent protests on the Gaza border with Israel on May 14.

The tear gas claim, which made worldwide headlines, is now disputed and the health ministry has backed away from it.

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